Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier/ Ring of Honor Inductee Matt Blair
Good afternoon guys. We came out of that game yesterday in pretty good shape injury wise.
Q: How did
A: He’s a little sore, but not as sore as he was a week ago Monday, so that’s encouraging. We’ll be smart tomorrow and get him ready to go on Thursday.
Q: Will you have him practice tomorrow?
A: We’ll see. We would like for him to get something in but we’ll see how he feels.
A: Well, you feel like once you get a couple scores up that you want to be able to manage the clock and yet, it’s too early in the game to really go into a cocoon. You want to still be able to try to strike. We know how things can happen in our League. A turnover here or a bad play there and all the sudden things can change in a hurry. We had a point where we want to be able to manage the clock but we don’t want to take the foot off the gas at that point.
Q: Are you confident
A: I think so. When you look at moments where he’s struggled and then you’ve seen him bounce back, even after the first interception to come back and take us down for a score when he threw the pass to Percy [Harvin] for a touchdown, those are signs that he’s maturing as a quarterback. He’s able to put bad plays behind him and that’s what you have to be able to do at that position. That’s important to our team, it’s important to him. I am. I’m confident that he’ll just continue to get better as time goes on.
Q: Did he look like he was a little uncomfortable after the early pressure?
A: Any time you get pressure at quarterback, it can cause some of those moments where you are uncomfortable. But I thought he handled the pressure well for the most part. A couple of the throws were a little bit errant but they did a good job of rushing throughout the day and for the most part, I thought he handled it pretty good.
Q: Do you take satisfaction in winning the old way, running and defense?
A: Well, I like it any time we win, however way we do it, you just like to win. I do believe you want to be a balanced team. You want to be able to throw the ball as well a run the ball effectively, but there are times where something is being taken away you have to be good in other areas. Fortunately for us, we’re at a point as a team where we can make up for deficiencies in other areas. There was a time where that would not have been a case. It shows that we’re growing as a team and we’re finding ways to win games, but I do believe you need to be a balanced attack on offense in order to be successful in the long term.
Q: Are you seeing more eight and nine-man fronts?
A: Over the last few weeks we’ve begun to see a lot more eight and nine-man fronts and we expect to continue to see that. We’ll have to hit some explosive plays down the field to offset that, to get people to loosen up a little bit. Arizona did a good job of mixing their coverages at times. There were times they were two-high as well but a lot more eight and nine-men front as the game went on, especially with us having the lead and running the football as effectively as we were. We’ll have to be able to exploit some of those single-high situations over time.
A: You’re right. We did target him more than once, he had the PI, he had the catch on the hitch he did a good job on. We did have some other plays where we looked for him, we just didn’t have an opportunity to connect. That PI was a big play, it helped set up a touchdown for us and that’s what Jerome can do. His vertical threat is something we’ve lacked a little bit so to have that, it’s a great option for our offense and we want to be able to utilize his strengths in the passing game. We looked for him at other times, it just didn’t work out.
Q: Do you get concerned about Christian Ponder’s confidence?
A: I’m really not. He’s so different than a year ago when it comes to negative plays. I’ve seen it and we’ve all seen it over these first seven games where he’s had some bad plays and he’s bounced back, whether it be the Detroit game or the Houston game. He’s done a good job. Yesterday was a tough game against a very very good defense but he’s not the same Christian Ponder that he was a year ago. I’m convinced of it, seen enough evidence of it in practice, even in games, where he’s bounced back from some tough plays and his teammates have seen it as well.
Q: What was off for him yesterday?
A: I think a lot of it had to do with what they were doing defensively. Some of things they were able to take away from what we wanted to get accomplished in the passing game. There were some things, as he evolves as an NFL quarterback, and our understanding the fact that he’s only in his second season, there are going to be some tough days for him. He’ll get better. He’ll look at this tape from that ball game on Sunday, learn from it, move on and prepare for this next ball game. He’ll keep learning from every situation.
Q: Has there been a time that the front four has been able to get that much pressure without blitzing?
A: I’m not sure. I know we’ve had some multiple sack games, I don’t know if we’ve done it that effectively without blitzing though. In the past, we probably would have mixed in a little more pressure than we did yesterday. That was the goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys. Our D-line stepped up to challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would. It really took a lot of pressure off our secondary and helped them to play a very good game as well. It was great execution, but it started with our guys up front.
Q: Did you make the call on not blitzing because you were concerned about Larry Fitzgerald?
A: We just felt like for us and where we were and where we thought they were as a team, that this was the best strategy. If we could execute it, we felt like it could give us the results that we wanted in order us to be successful as a team and as a defense. It worked out just that way. It worked out perfectly for us. We were able to generate the pressure, didn’t give up the big plays over the top of the defense and made other players have to make plays for them. We knew it might hurt us a little in the run game, but it turned out to be the right thing to do.
Q: Before the end of the first half, the decision of when to take the time out and then the play call, what was the advantage of doing that when you were backed up?
A: Looking back it it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do. We probably could have just went into the half and taken that 14-7 lead and say, ‘Hey, let’s just start the second half.’ We can do something different in that situation rather than put him in a situation where he has to try to make a play. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably do something different.
Q: On the six-yard pass to
A: No, that was the call. He threw the ball where it should have gone.
Q: What do you like most about Harrison Smith’s progress?
A: Probably just what you said, sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can temper your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively and that hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in-tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened. I remember explaining to him about horse collaring and what happened a week ago against Washington and talking him through it again, although we’ve covered this before, and he said, ‘Okay, I understand,’ and then he just moved on and that’s the attitude you want to see but that’s not always the case, even with veterans. His resiliency, his maturity is very, very impressive. He’s a bright guy and very athletic but his maturity and just not letting stuff hang on to him that can be negative, that’s impressive.
Q: Did you expect your defense at this point to be the group making big plays and setting the tone?
A: We definitely addressed some things in the offseason to try to improve our defense and we were hoping that our defense would be much improved and get back to helping our team be successful over the course of the season. It’s a team game and there are going to be some weeks where we’re going to need our offense to score a bunch of points in order for us to win. You hope that doesn’t happen very often but I understand just being in this League as long as I have, there are going to be days like that where the defense has to really carry the team at times, and at times, the offense may have to pick up the defense and special teams will have to do a great job. There are going to be days like that, but to answer your question, we all hope that our defense will be much improved and it will be a defense to help us win a championship. The guys are playing some very, very good defense for us and we’ll have to continue to do that. We still have some areas we need to improve on and we’ll have to keep working to improve.
Q: Is home-field advantage more important for a Thursday night game than for a Sunday game after a full week?
A: I’d like to think so. We’ll look at the numbers at the end of the year when they look at the Thursday night schedules and take a look at home teams and away teams and what their record was and that will probably be the truer answer to that question, but I would much rather be playing at home this Thursday than having to get on a flight on Wednesday to travel to the opposing team, so I’m grateful that we’re playing at home.
Q: After games, when do you get a sense a player is ready to play again? Does playing on Thursday put players at a higher risk of injury?
A: Touchy area there my friend. Touchy area. That one is a bigger call than Coach Frazier standing here at this podium talking about that. We do what we’re told to do. We have a game on Thursday night, we have to get prepared to go play that game and if they tell us it’s Wednesday, it’s Friday, if it’s Tuesday, we have to get ready to go and we have been through a Tuesday game as we all recall.
Q: Can you take us through this week’s schedule for your team? How tough is it to prepare for this game?
A: It’s definitely different than what you would ordinarily have to do as a player and a coach, but both teams are under the same constraints with the difference being one team has to travel on Wednesday and one doesn’t. You know that, so you just try to prepare your team as best you can but it’s not what they’re accustomed to by any means.
Q: What gets cut out?
A: You have to remember, first of all, Tuesday is ordinarily their day off so you’ve eliminated that day. Monday has always been what it is, it’s either a victory Monday or it’s a day for them to come in and get whatever they need from the trainers, so you’ve eliminated what would have been their normal day off during the course of a week and now you have to combine all of the things you would have done on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday into one day in a condensed fashion, but you have to get all of those things covered in one day. You have to really be smart in your preparation, how you’re going to get that done without over-taxing them mentally, but yet getting them where they need to be physically to go out and play in a football game on a Thursday and for some guys, Thursday is their day to really get back to practice because Wednesday is a day where they’re just beginning to have their bodies awakening in some ways. It’s definitely a different mindset, it’s a different approach, and you have to adjust, but all of the teams that are playing on Thursday night are doing the same thing.
Q: Does it put more pressure on the physical aspect and players getting soreness out of their bodies?
A: You have to be smart as a player. You have to get your rest when you can and take care of your body. You have a short recovery time and you just have to be smart with what you do with your time away from this building.
As I depart from the podium, I have the fortune of introducing the one guy who did a great job at kicking off our season for us, who is going to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, great player here with the Minnesota Vikings for so many years, Matt Blair, played in six Pro Bowls, played in a couple Super Bowls, but one of the things that impressed me the most was when Matt came out and spoke to our team in training camp, when we kicked training camp off and we’ve done this two years going. Jim Marshall did it for us a year ago. Matt did it this year and both guys did a terrific job, but Matt mentioned something to our players on that night and of course he’s a great player as we all know. He talked to our players about visualizing success and he talked to them about not getting caught up in the past but just focusing on the moment and that was really something that was part of our approach with our team as we opened training camp, so without me even talking about what direction I wanted to take our team in that first meeting, it was so apropos to listen to him speak to our team and talk to them about success and visualizing success. I said, ‘Man, that’s one of the reasons he’s a great player.’ He told them a little bit about his history and why he was a great player, little bit about his background and as you listened, I think everyone in that room, every player on our team had great respect for him not only as a player, but as a man as well, and for all of the great things he did on the football field representing the Minnesota Vikings, his character off the field really spoke to our players. We’re grateful that we’re going to be able to honor him on this Thursday night as he enters the Ring of Honor. Congratulations Matt, and thank you for all you have done for the Minnesota Vikings. Thank you.
Q: Are you taking credit for the 5-2 start?
A: I just think from the past experiences, very important, and Ponder is doing a better job because in the past, last year, it didn’t work out as good. Now he is moving around more and buying more time so he can throw the ball and again, you come the first year, you learn a lot, but you always put that in your mind so when it happens again in that situation, you jump to it and do something different and hopefully you’re successful at it.
Q: Have you thought about what you’re going to say Thursday night?
A: Yes, I’ve been working on it since, I think it was July 27 or 28 when they told me about this and I’ve been working at it, but I just got a little note from Deb (Jones), they gave me three, now it’s down to two minutes, so I’ll have to change it up a little bit. But I’m ready.
Q: Can you talk about the speech you game to the team before training camp?
A: In general, yes, there are ways that you can win, but you have to pay the price, and I told them, basically, what I did was when I played is that you watch film, you look at the plays, you look at what you need to do as a linebacker, running back, wide receiver, and I said, ‘Just visualize it. Look at the film, visualize it. Keep it there. Continue thinking about it, and when they call you to run the play, you can do it within seconds.’ In the NFL, especially a linebacker, if you don’t know where to drop back on the pass route, they’re going to throw the ball real quick and they’re going to catch the ball. You want to drop in the right position. That is key. You have 1/100th of a second to make that decision. If you visualize that, you know what to do, then you know where to go. That is something I told them. You have to focus, you have to leave things that you do in life, you have to let it go and come to practice and you practice at it every day, every play. You just do it over and over and over in your mind and physically you do it, and I just said, ‘You guys, it takes your entire heart to make it happen. It’s not just today. It’s your heart, and you give it all. You focus on it and you’ll accomplish it.’ And another thing I told them I tried to do is you write your goals down, what you want to do, and if you don’t write those down, you’ll forget about it, but if you write them down and check it every day and I’ll share this with you, I was a rookie playing against the St. Louis Cardinals. Jackie Smith, tight end, I was starting and I made a few mistakes. Roy Winston came back in the game right before halftime with two minutes left and Bud (Grant), when we went into the locker room and I thought I wasn’t going to start anymore. When he said you players that started the game, you go back out there and start again, that excited me, that just blew my mind away because I got a second chance and I went out there and I covered Jackie Smith and I did everything to try and keep him from catching the ball and he didn’t catch anymore balls that second half. After the game, the media came to Bud and they asked, ‘What did Matt Blair bring to the game?’ Bud said, ‘Lack of experience.’ From that day on, that’s when I decided that I needed to do a little bit more and that’s what it’s all about. You try to tell the players, here is what you need to do. You’ve got to get the experience, and the experience will pay the price and you can have fun in this game if you do it right.
Q: What does this honor mean to you?
A: They gave me two minutes, I hope I don’t get emotional for two minutes and not say anything, but it’s very humbling to be put in with great players, the Tarkentons, the Ellers, the Carters, the Marshalls, the Grants, those guys are just legendary and to be among and be the 20th player for the Ring of Honor? It’s like you being picked to be the best writer in the world. That’s what it feels like.